Stoic Optimism and The Taoist Farmer: Who’s To Say What Is Good Or Bad

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There are many variations of the following story, and also many ‘origin stories’. But that doesn’t matter. All that matters is the message.


A farmer and his only son are out herding sheep and their only horse breaks off and runs away. 

All the neighbors come over and console the loss to this farmer and his son. The farmer simply responds with “Who’s to say what is good or bad?”

Not more than one month goes by when this horse returns with 2 new wild horses! ‘Oh how lucky you are’, the neighbors exclaim. The farmer simply responds with “Who’s to say what is good or bad?”

The next day while the farmers son is trying to break the wild horse, he falls and breaks his leg. The neighbors again console the farmer for losing the man power his son provides to his farm. Again the farmer responds, “Who’s to say what is good or bad?”

A week goes by and the King’s generals arrive at the small town rounding up every able bodied male to join his army for an upcoming war. The farmer’s son cannot go. 

Who’s to say what is good or bad?


Ryan Holiday achieved success at a young age, and has spend the last decade studying Stoicism. Here is a breif Ted Talk of Ryan explaining Stoic Optimism:


Success is not an event, its a journey. Along the way there are obstacles and events that may seem like failures. Every failure brings you one step closer to your goals.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
― Thomas A. Edison


For more information about Stoic Optimism and the teachings of Marcus Aurelius, I highly recommend Meditations, By Marcus Aurelius.